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Bush honors King

Tribute comes amid renewed debate on affirmative action

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush speaks at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover, Maryland. Looking on is Pastor John K. Jenkins.
President Bush speaks at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover, Maryland. Looking on is Pastor John K. Jenkins.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Declaring "there's more to do," President Bush paid tribute Monday to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. at a time when politicians and civil rights leaders are debating anew America's troubled racial history and efforts to remedy past wrongs.

While Monday's focus was on honoring the slain civil rights leader, the day's activities were playing out against a backdrop of growing political debate on affirmative action, and Democratic and Republican appeals to minorities.

Bush and first lady Laura Bush were warmly received at a Baptist church in Landover, Maryland, where the president spoke.

"Even though progress has been made, there's more to do," Bush said. "There are still people in our society who hurt. There's still prejudice holding people back. There's still a school system that doesn't elevate every child so they can learn. There's still a need for us to hear the words of Martin Luther King to make sure the hope of America extends its reach into every neighborhood across this land."

Bush made no reference to his decision last week to intervene in a pair of affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court. The administration filed two friend-of-the-court briefs opposing the University of Michigan admissions policy which helps minority students. Bush criticized the policy as a "quota system." In the briefs, the administration argued in favor of "race-neutral factors," such as considering an applicant's socio-economic background.

That move angered many civil rights leaders and Democrat lawmakers who say it flies in the face of Bush's oft-stated commitment to diversity.

start quoteEven though progress has been made, there's more to do.end quote
-- President Bush

"All we're saying simply is that there are a lot of different factors that ought to be considered as you really strive to achieve diversity in our society and especially on campus. Race is among them," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told CNN Sunday.

He said considering race should be no different than considering an applicant's athletic prowess or reviewing family connections. He said he believes Bush has benefited in life, such as getting into Yale University, because of his father's connections.

Across the nation, Americans marked the federal holiday with prayer, parades and political speeches. (Full story) In Atlanta, Georgia, Coretta Scott King, the widow of King, urged world leaders to "seek peaceful alternatives to the war with Iraq."

Daschle is scheduled to deliver a speech in Detroit, Michigan, on the Democratic civil rights agenda. His GOP counterpart, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, is scheduled to talk about civil rights at a dinner in New York hosted by the Congress of Racial Equality.

Also appearing Sunday on CNN was Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said he is a "strong proponent" of affirmative action and believes that race should play a role in university admissions.

"I wish it was possible for everything to be race-neutral in this country, but I'm afraid we're not yet at that point where things are race-neutral," said Powell, who is African-American.

On Friday, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who attended Monday's church service with the president and first lady, said that while race-neutral practices are "preferable," race can be used as "one factor among others" to achieve the goal of diversity on campus.

In the briefs, the Bush administration did not address the question of whether race could ever be considered a factor in making admissions decisions.

Over the weekend, the White House announced that Bush wants to boost funding by $371 million for historically black colleges and Hispanic institutions.

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